Pope Francis’s foremost priority should be top-to-bottom culture change in the Church, writes author and Ignatian spirituality expert Chris Lowney. Source: Melbourne Catholic.
Specifically, this change should foster a spirit of urgency, bring new talent to all decision-making tables and creat openness to radically new ideas.
Without this cultural transformation, a Church now enduring its worst crisis in five centuries will continue to deteriorate.
Worst crisis in five centuries? That’s not hyperbole. The grotesque horrors of the sexual abuse scandals, in Australia as throughout the Catholic world, are surely the most hurtful wounds that the Church has inflicted (and suffered) in recent decades. But other signs of existential crisis have abounded, in dozens of countries: thousands of ministries have shuttered, young people show little interest in the Church, sacramental participation has waned, and the clergy ranks are shrinking, to name just a few challenges.
Sluggish responses to grave problems have characterised Church culture. In 1983, for example, Pope John Paul II proclaimed the "urgency" of "commit[ting] all the Church’s energies" to reaching out in fresh ways to the millions of Catholics who were drifting from the Church. Decades have passed with plenty of rhetoric but nothing remotely resembling that "total commitment." Action plans have been scarce, and accountability for results has been nil. Without a willingness to confront bad news, share facts widely, and respond with determination and urgency, the Church will never solve its present and future challenges.
Our Church needs the talent of more lay men and women not merely as advisors on such challenges, but as empowered partners at all strategic and decision-making tables, from the Vatican on down. Pope Benedict XVI once proclaimed that lay people must become "co-responsible" for the Church’s "being and activity." He was right, but we’ve made only token progress at turning that vision into reality.
The Plenary Council 2020 looks from a distance to be a welcome movement towards a broad-based commitment. All success to it, and may many such initiatives flourish, for they are surely needed to help ignite the broad culture change needed.
Chris Lowney is author of Everyone Leads: How to Revitalise the Catholic Church. He is visiting Melbourne and Ballarat this month.
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